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Zit-causing bug bears Frank Zappa's name
Frank Zappa's name has been bestowed on jellyfish, spiders and an asteroid -- and now, an acne-causing bacterium.
February 18th, 2014
05:04 PM ET

Zit-causing bug bears Frank Zappa's name

In 1968, Rolling Stone reported on how Frank Zappa influenced the Beatles. Nearly 50 years later, Zappa has inspired scientists to name a acne-causing bug after him.

Sound weird? Actually, it’s not. All kinds of beetles (Steven Colbert, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld), plants (Princess Diana orchid, President Obama moss ) and animals (John Cleese's wooly lemur ) are just some of the organisms named after celebrities.

It’s also not the first time that a critter has been named in honor of Zappa. Forty years ago, a mollusk extinct for 300 million years ago was named Amaurotoma zappa; a quarter century ago, a new genus of fish was named Zappa. The Zappa name has also been bestowed upon jellyfish and spiders. Astronomers even named an asteroid 3834 Zappafrank after the rock legend.

Now a group of Italian scientists report Tuesday  in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution that a pimple-causing bacterium found on humans hopped over and colonized grapevines more than 7,000 years ago. The authors named the bug P. Zappae in honor of the Rock and Roll Hall-of-Famer of Italian descent.

In one of his most controversial songs, Zappa sung of wanting a Jewish princess with “sand-blasted zits.” He often referenced germs in his lyrics because he lived near a chemical warfare facility as a child. Despite these references, it’s unlikely that Zappa, who died in 1993, would have predicted having an influence on the field of microbiology.

Evolutionist Omar Rota-Stabelli was analyzing data the team had collected from bacteria on grapevines when he unexpectedly found the DNA from an acne-causing microbe on the plant. He thought it was a fluke.

Further analysis showed that the zit-causing bacterium had in fact found a new home in plant cells – the first evidence of a human-to-plant microbe transfer. (In case you were wondering, the plants don’t start breaking out.)

As Rota-Stabelli ran over to tell the team, he noticed the face of Zappa plastered on scientist Andrea Campisano’s computer background. Rota-Stabelli was inspired to stream Zappa’s songs; with “Bobby Brown” playing in the background, the scientists thought it was only natural to name the bacterium after something as unusual as it was – Frank Zappa.

"Frank Zappa was a very eccentric musician and somehow very unexpected in his behavior,” said Campisano, lead author of the research. “We really did not expect this (discovery) and we thought of him.”

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Filed under: Conditions • Germs

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.